For many years I taught psychological subjects, including values clarification, norms and conformity. Now that I am amidst the world of business networking, I can bring to bear those relevant topics to comment on the behavior and discussions of fellow networkers. Many seem to believe that their way of doing things is somehow universal, when in fact it may just be some established norms among business people in a given geographic area. Attire, punctuality, bluntness of expression, use of profanity, the telling of jokes, or even where we wear our name tags is often considered (or seems to be) the accepted model of behavior and thought. Norms are developed in most established organizations over a period of time. Sometimes they are specified in a Mission Statement, Code of Ethics or Rule of Behavior. Other times they are implied.
For example, in ProVisors, a networking organization in which I am a Group Leader, meetings start at 7 a.m. and end at 9 a.m. The 7 a.m. start never means that the actual meeting starts at 7 a.m., but that open networking begins at that time. Few people arrive at 7 a.m. sharp, but rather they trickle in until 7:30 or later. The actual meeting starts sometime around 7:30-7:45. Thus, though there are basic parameters for starting time, every group is a bit different. The norm tends to dictate that 7 a.m. is the beginning of open networking, the meeting starts some time around 7:30 and ends close to 9 a.m. Norms create expectations, and there is variation. Some members habitually show up at 7 a.m. sharp, and others rarely make it before 8 a.m. The same is true of the ending. Some habitually leave around 8:45, and others stay until well after 9 a.m.
Another example is attire. Some people always wear dark suits, while others seem to pride themselves in dressing very casually. In terms of how we refer to others, some are very formal, while others make a frequent use of nicknames or diminutives. We also vary widely in how quickly we respond (if at all) to communications by others. The channel of communication itself is subject to wide variation and expectation. Today it is becoming more common (and the norm) for people to send text messages, while some people continue to favor traditional telephonic communication. For those of use who remember a time with rotary phones and no voicemail, it is interesting to see how we have evolved from pagers (almost obsolete), to car phones, to cell phones, to various forms of social media. Where will it be in 5, 10 years?
The main point I am trying to make is that it is dangerous and misleading to assume that one way of doing anything is necessarily the best or shared by everyone. 7 a.m. as a starting time is literal to some and scorned by others. A handshake is the general norm, but for awhile people were favoring the “fist bump” to people they felt comfortable with. Some people are huggers, though that is not a general norm. It is fine to conform and follow the specified rules and norms, but if everyone looks, sounds and smells the same, how will people remember you? There is obvious value in standing out by being a bit different. But is that way the right way? Some people might suggest that my blog fit norms and conventions of social media, but if I did that would more people pay attention to it?